Story Structure

Welcome to Screenwriting Tricks for Authors!

I'm Alexandra Sokoloff on a book cover, Alex everywhere else, and before I was an author, I worked as a screenwriter for ten years, selling original scripts and writing novel adaptations for most of the major Hollywood studios — before I finally snapped and wrote my first novel. The Harrowing sold right away and was nominated for both the Anthony Award (mystery) and Bram Stoker Award (horror) for Best First Novel. Since then I've published eleven crime, supernatural and paranormal thrillers.

Because of my screenwriting and theater background, I was immediately in demand to teach writing workshops at writing conferences in various genres. And I realized very quickly that the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure and other storytelling techniques that Hollywood types take for granted are a huge revelation to people outside the glass dome of the film business. Granted, I’d had a lot of exposure to these concepts — not only as a working screenwriter, but also before that as a story analyst for various production companies, and on the Board of Directors of the WGA, West (the screenwriters’ union), and as the founder of, a private message board of over 2000 WGA screenwriters.

But I also think that this stuff is just in the air out here. Without even half trying, just by virtue of living in Los Angeles and working in the business, I was automatically exposed to the techniques that successful filmmakers have used since the beginning of the form, and that have been painstakingly detailed by story and scriptwriting gurus such as Robert McKee, John Truby, Christopher Vogler, Linda Seger, Viki King, Michael Hauge, the late Blake Snyder, and the late Frank Daniel (who taught screenwriting at the USC film school).

So my workshops, my blog, and the Screenwriting Tricks workbooks are my way of making these screenwriting techniques and tricks available to novelists and aspiring novelists who may not live anywhere near Hollywood, but who could be getting the same benefits that I and other author friends have reaped from applying screenwriting techniques to our novel writing. 

For those new to the blog, this page is where you can find some of the most important of these articles in a relative order. A lot of the articles link to other articles within them, but this will provide an overall table of contents.

You can skip around as much as you like! But for those of you who don't know where to start - it's a map.

If you're tired of clicking around for links, and/or want more than what's on the website, all the information on this blog and more - including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.

Obviously I am going to suggest that to get the most out of these concepts, you'll want to get one or both of the workbooks. I've priced them low so that it's easy for anyone to afford them: any format, just $3.99 and $2.99. The movie breakdowns alone are worth that, so if you ask me, it's a little self-defeating not to just click through and download!

The long-awaited PRINT textbook of my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop is now available, for $14.99 print, $3.99 ebook:


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries

And I must say this book turned out beautifully – it’s  a nice big 8 x 10 workbook, so well laid out! And it even lies flat for easy highlighting and scribbling in margins. 

This book updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

There’s also a companion ebook that you can buy separately – or can get for just $1.99 as a Kindle Matchbook if you buy the print workbook. But let’s face it–I know print is what people have been waiting for.

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


(and screenwriters!)

What you need to know right up front, whether you're writing a novel or a screenplay:

          Introduction: (The method behind the madness, here)

          What's Your Premise?

          What is High Concept?

          Your First Draft is Always Going to Suck

If you're writing a screenplay, or thinking about it, you'll want to read these screenwriting articles sooner rather than later:

On Screenwriting:

          Screenwriting Part One: The Job

          Screenwriting Part Two: The Craft

          Screenwriting Part Three: The Dirty Little Secret

Story structure for both authors AND screenwriters:

          Screenwriting - The Craft

          Story Structure 101 - The Index Card Method

          Story Elements Checklist

          Why the Three Act Structure?

          What are Act Climaxes, Turning Points, Act Breaks?

          Elements of Act One

Act One Breakdowns:

          Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

          Romancing the Stone

          Chinatown Act I Breakdown

Acts Two and Three

          Elements of Act Two

          Elements of Act Two, Part 2

          Elements of Act Three

          What Makes a Great Climax?

Visual Storytelling:

          Visual Storytelling Part 1

          Visual Storytelling Part 2

Creating Suspense:

          Creating Suspense

          Creating Suspense, Part 2

Plants and Payoffs:

          Plants and Payoffs

More structure

          Fairy Tale Structure and the List

          Meta Structure

          What KIND Of Story Is It?

Creating Character:

          The Protagonist

          What Makes a Great Protagonist? Case Study: Jake Gittes

          What Makes a Great Villain?

          Villains: The Forces of Antagonism

          Collecting Character

          Character Introductions

Story Breakdowns

- Act Climaxes Breakdowns:

          What Are Act Breaks, Act Clmaxes, Turning Points, Plot Points? 

          You've Got Mail

          Raiders of the Lost Ark

- Act One Breakdowns: (with more discussion)

          Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

          Romancing the Stone

- Chinatown Full Story Breakdown

          Chinatown Act I Breakdown

          Chinatown - Act II, Part One Breakdown

          Chinatown Second Half Breakdown


          Why do I need an agent, anyway?

          How do I get a literary agent?

          Life is a Pitch Meeting

          The Business of Indie Publishing


If you'd like to to see more of the story elements I discuss on this blog in action, I strongly recommend that you watch at least one, or much better, three of the films I break down in the workbooks, following along with my notes.

I do full breakdowns of Chinatown, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Romancing the Stone, and The Mist, and act breakdowns of You've Got Mail, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, Raiders of the Lost Ark in Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.

I do full breakdowns of The Proposal, Groundhog Day, Sense and Sensibility, Romancing the Stone, Leap Year, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sea of Love, While You Were Sleeping and New in Town in Writing Love.


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lagrandebouffecatering said...

hi Alexandra, sorry for contacting you through blog, Im not sure how else to do it.
I'm reading your (v helpful) Stealing Hollywood. Alexandra Benendict, my tutor at City University, recommended it to the year.
Im doing the act climaxes and wondering if i am getting it right.
I've just watched Gone Girl
i think the act climaxes are as follows;
Act one - she's alive
act two.1 - he's arrested
act two.2 - she kills Barney
act three - she's pregnant

if i am way off would you mind telling me what you see as the climaxes? my email address is
many thanks in advance
mark watkins

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Mark! How lucky you are to have Alexandra as your teacher! A great author and person.

I haven't seen Gone Girl since it came out so I can't say for sure, but what you've listed as the climaxes seem right just because they are such huge twists the filmmakers naturally would have built those scenes as the climaxes.

Usually if you check the time that those moments come - approximately 30 minutes in, 60 minutes in, 90 minutes in, and the end, you can feel more sure. But looking at the running time of Gone Girl, it's a 2 1/2 hour movie, so probably either there's an extra act climax in there somewhere, or the act climaxes are more like 40 minutes apart than 30. Does that make sense? The act lengths are proportional to the length of the film!